As an ocular oncologist and ophthalmologist from 9-5 and a mom 24-7, Jesse definitely (and literally!) has her hands full. That doesn’t slow her down at all — she continues to research and publish, perform vision-saving operations and teach others while somehow managing to do countless other things day-to-day. She’s known since a young age that she wanted to change lives and make an impact through medicine. One could say she’s living her dream!
I KNEW FROM A YOUNG AGE THAT I WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR… A DOCTOR WAS VERY KIND TO ME AND HELPED ME WHEN I WAS YOUNG, AND I WANTED TO BE IN A POSITION TO GIVE BACK TO OTHER PEOPLE IN THE SAME WAY.
HOW DO YOU START YOUR DAY?
Waking up before anyone else does is generally my only glimpse at some ‘me time’. I like to write in the morning when it’s quiet, often still in my pj’s, and if I am really on it I will get in a peloton ride or quick yoga session before the day starts.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE A DOCTOR / OPHTHALMOLOGIST?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a doctor. In some ways, it is because I grew up in a small town and was good at math and science, but also because a doctor was very kind to me and helped me when I was young. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up so this left a huge impression on me. I wanted to be in a position to give back to other people in the same way. I always expected to do something with global health. Because of this, I went on a cataract medical mission in Zimbabwe and Namibia after my first year of medical school. It was a magical experience. In these areas, people are completely blind from cataracts, which are entirely reversible with a simple surgery. During these camps, men and women would be brought in with their young grandchildren acting as guides given how poor their vision is. The day after surgery the eye patch is removed and there is an immediate outpouring of joy and dancing when they can now see. As impactful as that is, seeing all of the young children play together because they’re released from the duty of providing vision for their elders, really demonstrated the ways in which blindness impacts whole families, and whole communities. It was immediately clear that I wanted to be an eye surgeon. I have migrated away from cataract surgery but it still remains one of my absolute favorite surgeries. It is so elegant and most patients are so happy the next day.
DESCRIBE 2020 IN ONE WORD.
Pajamas-for-everyone. Bras-optional. Got quarantude? Truly, I’d say 2020 has been transformative. Change is hard. Sometimes it takes unprecedented events to bring around transformation and 2020 has done that in many ways. It has disrupted whole industries – altered health care delivery systems. Brought race and equity even more to the forefront of conversations – where it should have been long before this year.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST INSPIRING PART OF THIS YEAR, AND WHERE HAVE YOU FELT THE MOST POSITIVE GROWTH?
The adaptability of humankind is pretty amazing. Very quickly we adapted entire hospital enterprises and platforms to the new quarantine world. Took academic meetings online. Figured out how to stay productive and engaged in new ways. Most importantly how to deliver timely and high-quality care to patients while keeping patients and their providers safe from COVID!